The connection between beer and running does go way back to the days when a running club’s group run invariably ended up at the local tavern for a few post-run brews. Today, there is still that connection as many races and running social events have plenty of beer flowing afterward. For years, many of the major beer companies, such as Budweiser, Miller, Michelob, Coors and others, were sponsors of races and triathlons.
So beer has definitely been a part of the running scene for a long time. Certainly, not every runner drinks beer and nowhere is it suggested that beer can improve your performance in any appreciable way. As for the rationale, that you can carbo-load for a marathon by drinking beer, it’s simply a myth. While it’s true that a 12-ounce beer does have carbohydrates, it’s only about 14 grams which isn’t enough to make a difference.
But can drinking beer hurt your running? Many runners drink beer with no obvious side effects, but for some, drinking any alcohol is unhealthy. The amount of alcohol that can be safely consumed varies widely from runner to runner and also depends on the conditions. For example, chugging a couple of beers immediately after a long run around Lady Bird Lake in July, may have the same impact—impaired reaction time, poor balance and reduced coordination–as drinking a six-pack. If that sounds like something you do, driving is not suggested.
Beer might taste great, but it is a dehydrant and diuretic. Assuming a runner doesn’t have an alcohol dependency, the most significant negative effects of beer are dehydration and inhibiting recovery from a workout or race.
Again, this differs from runner to runner, but drinking one or two beers the night before a race or long run in cool weather probably will have very little impact on how well you run the next day. But in a hot-weather race or long run, one of the primary limiting factors is your hydration level. If you become dehydrated, your ability to run well drops significantly. So if you have a few beers the night before and start the summer long run partially dehydrated, you’re already in a hole.
It is so much harder to run when partially dehydrated for a number of reasons, but the primary one is your running muscles simply get less oxygen-rich blood which forces you to run slower. Additionally when dehydrated, less blood is sent to your skin which is the way your body cools itself. When the body can’t cool itself effectively, you run slower and run a higher risk of heat injury.
Again, having a beer or two the night before a cool-weather race is not going to hurt, but it might in a warm-weather race. The best advice before an important race or long run in summer heat is drink a non-alcoholic beer. Or if you want to drink regular beer, pound at least 12 ounces of water with every beer you drink. And limit yourself to no more than two beers.
After the race or long run, you might feel like drinking a beer with your friends. Once again the assumption is rehydrating with beer is not a bad thing. It’s mostly water, right?
True, but what you need to do after a hard race or long run is replenish the fluids and carbohydrates you have lost during the run. The best way to do that is with pure water, juice or sports drinks and carbohydrate-rich food. Beer won’t help. After you have adequately rehydrated and reloaded with carbs, you can have a beer or two.
Even so, alcohol will slow your recovery process because beer is a diuretic and because the alcohol in it needs to be processed by your liver which is involved with many of the functions of recovering from the run or race.
To recover as quickly as possible, it’s best to avoid alcohol for at least an hour or two. After you have recovered adequately, you can indulge your taste buds with the suds.